Numbers 15 contrasts sharply with the two previous chapters and the next. In it we see events that are full of unbelief and revolt on the part of God’s people. But in this chapter, it seems as if God forgets all that for a moment. He starts with: “When you enter the land”, words that are completely independent of the current situation in which the people find themselves.
The LORD speaks of the entry of the people into the land as if nothing has happened. He doesn’t therefore speak to the unbelieving people, whose bodies will fall in the wilderness, but to a faithful remnant, like Caleb and Joshua. They present, together with the children under the age of twenty, “a remnant according to [God’s] gracious choice” (Rom 11:55In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to [God’s] gracious choice.). While God will judge the whole people and only a remnant will reach the land, the encouraging words of this chapter are meant for this remnant.
This shows that man’s sin can never overturn God’s counsels. God will always fulfill His plans to a remnant. God is not embarrassed by man’s sin. The large mass is killed in the wilderness, the remnant gets the blessing. He brings this remnant into the peace of His counsel, which was in His heart from eternity, undisturbed by everything that happens in Christianity.
Not least flustered by the unbelief and revolt of His people, God reveals what He intends to do. To know this acting of God is also a consolation for us in the midst of so much apostacy. The reference to entering the land at this time – now that the people have just refused to take possession of it – is a clear encouragement for faith and an assurance of the infallible grace of God.
God therefore has a firm foundation for this action. He has this in the work of the Lord Jesus. He wants to occupy His people, and the faithful in particular, with Him. The sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, described in picture in verses 1-161Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,2“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land where you are to live, which I am giving you,3then make an offering by fire to the LORD, a burnt offering or a sacrifice to fulfill a special vow, or as a freewill offering or in your appointed times, to make a soothing aroma to the LORD, from the herd or from the flock.4The one who presents his offering shall present to the LORD a grain offering of one-tenth [of an ephah] of fine flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of oil,5and you shall prepare wine for the drink offering, one-fourth of a hin, with the burnt offering or for the sacrifice, for each lamb.6Or for a ram you shall prepare as a grain offering two-tenths [of an ephah] of fine flour mixed with one-third of a hin of oil;7and for the drink offering you shall offer one-third of a hin of wine as a soothing aroma to the LORD.8When you prepare a bull as a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a special vow, or for peace offerings to the LORD,9then you shall offer with the bull a grain offering of three-tenths [of an ephah] of fine flour mixed with one-half a hin of oil;10and you shall offer as the drink offering one-half a hin of wine as an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD.11‘Thus it shall be done for each ox, or for each ram, or for each of the male lambs, or of the goats.12According to the number that you prepare, so you shall do for everyone according to their number.13All who are native shall do these things in this manner, in presenting an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD.14If an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he [wishes to] make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, just as you do so he shall do.15[As for] the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns [with you], a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the LORD.16There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.’”, is therefore central. The offerings described here are all offerings to a pleasant fragrance. God wants to occupy our hearts with the most glorious things His people will do in the land: Offering Him offerings. He wants us to penetrate His thoughts for this and for this He shows us these offerings and teaches us lessons.
Much has been said about the offerings themselves in Leviticus. The emphasis here in Numbers is on the accompanying offerings. The three different types of burnt offerings and peace offerings must always be accompanied by a grain offering, a drink offering and a quantity of oil. Depending on the size of the burnt offering and peace offering, the quantity for the grain offering, drink offering and oil is also determined.
The first offering that someone can bring is a lamb (verse 55and you shall prepare wine for the drink offering, one-fourth of a hin, with the burnt offering or for the sacrifice, for each lamb.), then someone can also bring a ram (verse 66Or for a ram you shall prepare as a grain offering two-tenths [of an ephah] of fine flour mixed with one-third of a hin of oil;) and finally someone can bring a bull as the greatest offering (verse 99then you shall offer with the bull a grain offering of three-tenths [of an ephah] of fine flour mixed with one-half a hin of oil;). The offerings here go from small to large. In Leviticus it is the other way around. There God begins with the greatest. But in Numbers it is about our practice, how we increasingly penetrate the value of the offering and grow in the knowledge of it:
1. The lamb must be accompanied by a grain offering of one-tenth [of an ephah] of fine flour, one-fourth of a hin of oil and one-fourth of a hin of wine.
2. The ram must be accompanied by a grain offering of two tenths [of an ephah] of fine flour, one-third of a hin of oil and one-third of a hin of wine.
3. The bull must be accompanied by a grain offering of three-tenths [of an ephah] of fine flour, one-half a hin of oil and one-half a hin of wine.
God never wants His people to forget that to blood sacrifices these non-blood sacrifices belong. For us this means that we must never separate the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross from His life as Man on earth, of which the grain offering speaks. God wants us to learn this in Numbers. We must always remember that the work of His Son on the cross is the conclusion of a perfect life on earth. It makes all the difference to God that it is the perfect Man Who has directed His footsteps to the cross. He is that fine flour. As in fine flour everything is perfectly even, without any unevenness, so He has been in His life on earth.
The oil must be mixed with the flour. It speaks of how the Holy Spirit is completely mixed with the life of the Lord Jesus. He has done everything through the power of the Holy Spirit. He has only spoken and acted through Him. We have to learn that in our walk through the wilderness. The more we see of the Lord Jesus in His sacrifice, the greater our understanding of His work on the cross, the more the Holy Spirit will also be able to work in our lives.
The same can be said of the wine. Wine is a picture of joy. The drink offering makes us think of the joy with which the Lord Jesus surrendered Himself. God wants us to remember that too.
Paul has felt something of this. He says to the Philippians that he wants to be “a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service” of their faith (Phil 2:1717But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.). Through his death he wants to give God an extra reason to rejoice at the joy He already enjoys through the sacrifice of the Philippians. It is also a joy for Paul to remember that he gave his whole life to offer others, including the Philippians, as a sacrifice to God (cf. Rom 15:1616to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that [my] offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.).
The apostle sees all their faith and service as a sacrifice to God. They present their bodies “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” (Rom 12:11Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship.). That is the main sacrifice for him. Their faith is active in sacrificing themselves and serving God and others. Paul thinks this is bigger than his life. His martyr’s death will be poured over it like a much smaller drink offering (2Tim 4:66For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.).
The greater the sacrifice we bring, that is to say, the greater our understanding is of the work that the Lord Jesus did on the cross, the greater will be our drink offering. Then we will not walk around with sad faces, but with His joy and His mind in our hearts.
Are we alone impressed by the wickedness of the people? Or do we see the glory of the Lord Jesus? That is what God wants to teach us with Numbers 15. He wants us to rise to the level of His thoughts. Then we will not go down in the pain of decay, but will merge into the joy of the work of the Lord Jesus, of which the drink offering speaks.